Drug war slayings snuffing out news in Mexico

Associated Press
Police remove from a canal, plastic bags containing the dismembered bodies of four people, in Boca del Rio, Mexico, Thursday, May 3,  2012. The bodies were found dumped together in plastic bags by a canal in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz on Thursday, less than a week after the killing of a reporter for an investigative newsmagazine. At least three of the slain had worked as news photographers. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)

View gallery

Police remove from a canal, plastic bags containing the dismembered bodies of four people, in Boca del …

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Four of the last reporters and photographers willing to cover crime stories have been slain in less than a week in violence-torn Veracruz state, where two Mexican drug cartels are warring over control of smuggling routes and targeting sources of independent information.

The brutal campaign is bleeding the media and threatening to turn Veracruz into the latest state in Mexico where fear snuffs out reporting on the drug war.

Three photojournalists who worked the perilous crime beat in the port city of Veracruz were found dismembered and dumped in plastic bags in a canal Thursday, less than a week after a reporter for an investigative newsmagazine was beaten and strangled in her home in the state capital of Xalapa.

Press freedom groups said all three photographers had temporarily fled the state after receiving threats last year. The organizations called for immediate government action to halt a wave of attacks that has killed at least seven current and former reporters and photographers in Veracruz over the last 18 months.

Like most of those, the men found Thursday were among the few journalists left working on crime-related stories in the state. Threats and killings have spawned an atmosphere of terror and self-censorship, and most local media are too intimidated to report on drug-related violence. Social media and blogs are often the only outlets reporting on serious crime.

Veracruz isn't the only battleground for Mexican media. In at least three northeastern states, journalists are under siege from assailants throwing grenades inside newsrooms and gunmen firing into newspaper and TV station buildings.

In the state of Tamaulipas, on the border with Texas, local media stopped covering drug trafficking violence, mentioning drug cartels or reporting on organized crime shortly after two gangs began fighting for control of Nuevo Laredo in 2004. As part of that war, reporters were targeted to keep them silent or because they had links to gangs.

Mexico has become one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists in recent years, amid a government offensive against drug cartels and fighting among gangs that have brought tens of thousands of deaths, kidnappings and extortion cases.

Prosecutions in journalist killings are almost nonxistent, although that is widely true of all homicides and other serious crimes in Mexico.

The latest killings came in Boca del Rio, a town near the port city of Veracruz where police found the bodies. The victims bore signs of torture and had been dismembered, the state prosecutors' office said.

One victim was identified as Guillermo Luna Varela, a crime-news photographer for the website www.veracruznews.com.mx who was last seen by local reporters covering a car accident Wednesday afternoon. According to a fellow journalist, who insisted on speaking anonymously out of fear, Luna was in his 20s and had begun his career working for the local newspaper Notiver.

The journalist said Luna was the nephew of another of the men found dead, Gabriel Huge. Huge was in his early 30s and worked as a photojournalist for Notiver until last summer, when he fled the state soon after two of the paper's reporters were slain in still-unsolved killings. He had returned to the state to work as a reporter, but it was not immediately clear what kind of stories he was covering recently.

State officials said the third victim was Esteban Rodriguez, who was a photographer for the local newspaper AZ until last summer, when he too quit and fled the state. He later came back, but took up work as a welder. The London-based press freedom group Article 19 said he, like the other two, had been a crime photographer.

The fourth victim was Luna's girlfriend, Irasema Becerra, state prosecutors said.

Article 19 said in a report last year that Luna, Varela and Rodriguez were among 13 Veracruz journalists who had fled their homes because of crime-related threats and official unwillingness to protect them or investigate the danger. The Committee to Protect Journalists said in 2008 that Huge had been detained and beaten by federal police as he tried to cover a fatal auto accident involving officers.

Last June, Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, a columnist and editorial director for Notiver, was shot to death in Veracruz along with his wife and one of his children.

Authorities that month also found the body of journalist Noel Lopez buried in a clandestine grave in the town of Chinameca. Lopez, who disappeared three months earlier, had worked for the weeklies Horizonte and Noticias de Acayucan and for the daily newspaper La Verdad.

The following month, Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz, a police reporter for Notiver, was found with her throat cut in the state.

Lopez was found after a suspect in another case confessed to killing him, but the other two murders have not been resolved.

The cartel war in Veracruz reached a bloody peak in September when 35 bodies were dumped on a main highway in rush-hour traffic. Local law enforcement in the state was considered so corrupt and infiltrated by the Zetas and other gangs that Mexico's federal government fired 800 officers and 300 administrative personnel in the city of Veracruz-Boca del Rio in December and sent in about 800 marines to patrol.

Mike O'Connor, the Committee to Protect Journalists' representative for Mexico, said journalists in Veracruz were exercising an unusual degree of self-censorship even before Ordaz and Lopez were killed. He said media avoided much coverage of crime and corruption.

"Important news was not covered because it might upset the Zetas. Then these guys were killed and self-censorship cracked down even more," O'Connor said. "Almost all of the police beat reporters left town after those killings."

Regina Martinez, a correspondent for the national magazine Proceso, continued to cover crime-related stories along with a handful of other journalists, however.

On Saturday, authorities went to her home in Xalapa, the state capital, after a neighbor reported it to be suspiciously quiet. They found the reporter dead in her bathroom with signs she had been beaten and strangled.

"Self-censorship was extraordinarily strong but whoever killed these journalists wanted more," O'Connor said. "It still wasn't enough to satisfy whoever killed these journalists."

Mexico's human rights commission says 74 media workers were slain from 2000 to 2011. The Committee to Protect Journalists says 51 were killed in that time. It noted in a statement on the Mexico killings that Thursday was World Press Freedom Day.


Associated Press writers Michael Weissenstein and Adriana Gomez Licon, contributed to this report.

Sorry you didn't like this comment. Please provide a reason below.

Are you sure?
Rating failed. Try again.
Request failed. Try again.
We will promote constructive and witty comments to the top, so everyone sees them!
Sorry, we can’t load comments right now. Try again.

    Recommended for You

    • Toddler dies in Spokane fire, his dog huddled at his side

      SEATTLE (AP) — A toddler who died in a house fire was found with his dog and teddy bear next to him and authorities believe the dog tried to protect the boy, a spokesman for Spokane's fire department said Saturday.

      Associated Press
    • Clinton far ahead in Electoral College race: Reuters/Ipsos poll

      Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton maintained her commanding lead in the race to win the Electoral College and claim the U.S. presidency, according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos States of the Nation project results released on Saturday. Clinton leads Donald Trump in most of the states that Trump would need should he have a chance to win the minimum 270 votes needed to win. The mostly likely outcome would be 326 votes for Clinton to 212 for Trump.

    • Woman Gives Birth to Surprise Baby Just Hours After Going to ER for 'Kidney Stones'

      She thought the pain was kidney stones until the doctors ordered an ultrasound.

      Inside Edition
    • Pakistani tea seller turns model after fame on social media

      ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani tea seller with striking eyes who saw his life change overnight after a picture of him at work went viral, said Friday he was totally unaware of social media until recently, when boys and girls suddenly started thronging his tea stall to take selfies with him.

      Associated Press
    • China slams 'provocative' US sail-by in South China Sea

      China has slammed the US for sailing a warship near disputed territory in the South China Sea, saying the move was a "serious illegal act" and "deliberately provocative". In a statement on its website late Friday night, the country's defence ministry said two Chinese naval vessels warned off a US ship after it entered "Chinese territorial waters" near the Paracel Islands, known as Xisha in Chinese. China controls all of the islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

    • Two children killed in Georgia home invasion: police

      Two children were killed early on Saturday in a home invasion in a small Georgia city, police said. An 15-year-old boy and his 11-year-old sister were found shot dead in a house in Jonesboro, a city of fewer than 5,000 residents about 20 miles south of Atlanta, according to Sergeant Ashanti Marbury of the Clayton County Police Department. In addition to the two dead children, officers also found several other children as young as 6 in the house, Marbury said.

    • Police Called Twice Leading Up to Scottie Pippen's Divorce Filing

      New details are emerging following NBA legend Scottie Pippen’s decision to file for divorce from his wife, Larsa, after 19 years of marriage

    • Philippines says to keep U.S. ties but will not be subservient

      By Karen Lema MANILA (Reuters) - The United States remains the "closest friend" of the Philippines but Manila wants to break away from a "mindset of dependency and subservience" and forge closer ties with other nations, the Philippine foreign minister said on Saturday. The comments by Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay came two days after President Rodrigo Duterte announced his "separation" from Washington, though he went on to strike a more conciliatory tone on Friday. Yasay said in a Facebook posting that Duterte had "unmistakably" stated that severing ties with Washington was not in the nation's interest.

    • Every movie and TV show being removed from Netflix in November

      This has been an exciting week, full of new movie trailers, new game trailers and even a new console announcement from Nintendo, but we have some somber news to discuss as well: Netflix is getting rid of a bunch of content again. DON'T MISS:  These are the 2 best iPhone email apps in the world, and I can’t decide which to use Some of the highlights (or maybe lowlights, since they're expiring) include some great television series like Chuck , Courage the Cowardly Dog and Powerpuff Girls . We're also losing E.T. , Deliverance , The Boxtrolls and Gigli , though if you've actually seen Gigli , you might not be too upset about that last one. Keep in mind, the list is subject to change as Netflix renegotiates its deals, but here is the current list of removals scheduled for November: Leaving November 1st The Addams Family (1991) Almost Famous (2000) Angel Heart (1987) Barnyard (2006) Bratz: The Movie (2007) The 'Burbs (1989) Can't Hardly Wait (1998) Chuck: Seasons 1-5 The Core (2003) Deliverance (1972) E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) Echelon Conspiracy (2009) Eight Crazy Nights (2002) Empire State (2012) Equilibrium (2002) Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) The Family Man (2000) Fatal Attraction (1987) Fresh (1994) Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2005) The Holiday (2006) Into the Wild (2007) Kangaroo Jack (2003) Legally Blonde (2001) Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003) Major League (1989) Mansfield Park (1999) Meet Joe Black (1998) Mel Brooks: Make a Noise (2013) Open Season (2006) Open Season 2 (2008) Open Season 3 (2010) Patton Oswalt: My Weakness Is Strong (2009) Powerpuff Girls: Seasons 1-6 Rounders (1998) Scream 2 (1997) Sex: My British Job (2013) Shameless: Series 1-10 (UK) Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) Something's Gotta Give (2003) The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004) Spy Game (2001) The Sum of All Fears (2002) Total Drama World Tour (2014) Underground: The Julian Assange Story (2012) Urban Cowboy (1980) Varsity Blues (1999) What Women Want (2000) Leaving November 2nd The English Teacher (2013) Leaving November 4th Gigli (2003) Leaving November 5th The Homesman (2014) Leaving November 11th Quartet (2012) Leaving November 14th Seal Team 8: Behind Enemy Lines (2014) Leaving November 15th Naked Among Wolves (2015) Leaving November 16th The American (2010) Let's Go to Prison (2006) Leaving November 22nd Tracers (2014) Leaving November 23rd The Boxtrolls (2014) Scenic Route (2013) Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors (2015) Leaving November 24th The Boondocks: Seasons 1-4 Chowder: Seasons 1-3 Courage the Cowardly Dog: Seasons 1-4 Uncle Grandpa: Season 1 Leaving November 25th Robin Hood (1973) Leaving November 30th Stuck in Love (2012) xXx (2002) It’s not all bad news, though — don’t forget to check out all of the new movies and TV shows being added to Netflix in November .

      BGR News
    • Daughter of man in The Piano Guys missing in Oregon

      PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The 21-year-old daughter of one of men in the Utah-based music group The Piano Guys has been reported missing and may have gotten injured or lost on a hike in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, authorities say.

      Associated Press
    • Ivanka Trump backs her father but doesn't want to fall with him

      Ivanka, soon to turn 35, is still clearly her father's protegee. Having grown up in the spotlight from an early age, at a time when her father's extramarital affairs filled the tabloid press, Ivanka knows how to tend to her own image -- and that of the clothing line that bears her name.

    • AP Interview: Kaine already reaching out to GOP

      BOSTON (AP) — Tim Kaine is sounding a hopeful note that a Democratic White House could work with Republicans to bridge deep divides laid bare by this bitter presidential campaign.

      Associated Press
    • Keys 1st American in WTA Finals since Williams sisters

      SINGAPORE (AP) — Madison Keys is the first American other than Serena and Venus Williams to earn a berth at the year-end WTA Finals in more than a decade.

      Associated Press
    • Two Children Shot and Killed in Georgia Home Invasion

      A 15-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl were shot to death in a suspected home invasion in Georgia

    • U.S. warship challenges China's claims in South China Sea

      By Idrees Ali and Matt Spetalnick WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Friday, drawing a warning from Chinese warships to leave the area. The U.S. action was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, U.S. officials said. The Chinese Defense Ministry called the move "illegal" and "provocative," saying that two Chinese warships had warned the U.S. destroyer to leave.

    • Somali pirates free 26 hostages held for nearly five years

      Somali pirates have freed 26 Asian hostages held for nearly five years after the hijacking of their fishing vessel, the last commercial ship seized at the height of the country's piracy scourge, negotiators said Saturday. The crew of the Naham 3, the second longest held hostage by Somali pirates, were taken captive when their Omani-flagged vessel was seized in March 2012 south of the Seychelles. "We are very pleased to announce the release of the Naham 3 crew early this morning," said John Steed, coordinator of the Hostage Support Partners (HSP) who helped negotiate their release.

    • Couple Recreate Their Wedding Portraits in Local Target: 'We're Not Like Normal Newlyweds'

      Clad in their wedding gown and tuxedo, the Rexroads started in the Target parking lot, where a small crowd immediately gathered to watch.

      Inside Edition
    • U.S Defense Secretary Carter Arrives in Iraq

      U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrives in Iraq to meet with his commanders and assess the progress in the opening days of the operation to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants

      ABC News q
    • U.S. hopeful it can win Russia's agreement on Antarctic Ocean deal

      By Ben Gruber PALO ALTO, Calif. (Reuters) - After repeated failed attempts to establish an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary, the United States is hopeful it can sway Russia to agree to a plan that would protect a vast swath of what marine scientists call the most pristine body of water left on Earth. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is meeting in Hobart, Australia, in a bid to find consensus for a deal to conserve and manage the marine ecosystems in the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean. “We hope to bring Russia on board,” Evan Bloom, the head of the U.S. delegation, said in an interview on Friday.

    • Ten of the Most Outrageous Pickup Trucks Ever Produced (11 photos)

      A pickup truck's job is simple, but that's never stopped anyone from turning these basic workhorses into wild machines. Some are impractical, others are too fast for their own good, but all are outrageous. From Road & Track

      Road & Track